The City of Atlanta recently announced that the United States Department of Transportation would provide a grant of $47.6 million to partially fund a $72 million streetcar project that will stretch from Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center.
Members of the Atlanta City Council, Rep. John Lewis and some local business owners are hailing it as an “innovative” project that will reduce gridlock and create jobs. But if history is any guide, those hopes will fade much like the streetcars that ran in the city until 1949. Common sense will tell you the same thing.
The idea that this project is going to reduce gridlock is laughable. This streetcar will service a relatively short stretch, a little over a mile, in an area designed to attract tourists; the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and the CNN Center will be among the stops. But while this streetcar is running in this small section of the city, hundreds of drivers each day will still be sitting in traffic elsewhere. As is often the case when cities waste taxpayer funds on “smart growth” strategies and transit projects, rather than focusing on projects that move people from where they are to where they want to go, this project will become a fiscal drag on a city already badly in debt.
Businesses along the line will assist with capital and operating costs, and the city will contribute $15.6 million to help kick off construction. While riding on a streetcar may have a certain nostalgic appeal to some, it is hard to do anything but question the wisdom of city leaders for committing to fund this pork project when they are staring down a severe pension crisis; Atlanta faces an unfunded liability of $1.5 billion in employee pensions and unemployment remains in double digits.
Leaders of the city may have a romantic view of the streetcar; but in reality, it is a luxury item that Atlanta cannot afford now or in the future.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code